New Blood Test Offers Clues about Heart Disease, Diabetes, Breast Cancer Risk

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Men and women aren’t the same. You already know that, don’t you? But those differences go down the physiological level and it’s important to realize that some medical tests may work for women and not for men. For instance, new research out of Sweden suggests that a new blood test may identify a woman’s risk of developing a variety of conditions, including heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes, as well as whether she is at an increased risk of early death.  However, this test did not provide the same type of feedback for men.

    The study involved over 4,600 people who had participated in the Malmo Diet and Cancer Study. This subset was part of 53,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 64 who were involved in this longitudinal research effort. Researchers drew blood samples from the subset of participants between 1991 and 1994 and then followed-up with each person 13-16 years later.

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    The blood samples were then analyzed for proneurotension, a substance that eventually turns into neurotensin, which is a hormone that is secreted during meals. The researchers noted that neurotensin levels are difficulty to measure, but proneurotension has been found to be a stable way to determine the production and secretion of neurotension. This particular hormone, which is created in the brain as well as the digestive system, is especially present after someone has eaten a meal that is high in fats. Neurotensin helps with food digestion, regulation of appetite, satiety, the control of body temperature and feelings of pain. Other studies have found that this hormone also may be linked to heart disease risk and the growth of breast cancer tissue.

    The analysis in the Swedish study found a significant relationship between the levels of proneurotensin in women and their risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer. They found that higher levels of this substance in the blood translated into a 41 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes, a 33 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 44 percent higher risk of breast cancer. In addition, higher levels of proneurotension were linked to higher odds of dying from heart disease by 50 percent. Interestingly, the researchers didn’t find the same linkages in men who had high concentrations of proneurotensin. They suspect that estrogen may cause the difference in the results by gender.

    ""Studies of animal models have clearly shown that the female sex hormone estrogen stimulates the growth of cells producing neurotensin, and women obviously have a higher lifetime exposure to estrogen than men," stated Dr. Olle Melander, a professor of internal medicine at Sweden’s Lund University, who led the study.

    The researchers believe that this blood test can help identify women who would benefit from an intensified effort to prevent cardiovascular disease and increased screening for breast cancer.

    I’m not a medical professional or a researcher, but in reading this study, I have to wonder if lifestyle changes would help lower the levels of proneurotension. For example, food choices are often recommended for people with type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For instance, the Mayo Clinic recommends eating a diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease. And the National Women’s Health Resource Center offers specificlifestyle changes that can help women prevent and manage high blood pressure. These include:

    • Losing weight.
    • Changing eating habits in order to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy and less saturated and total fat.
    • Limit salt.
    • Exercise.
    • Limit alcohol.

    Many of these changes are also supported in staving off type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Additionally, the National Cancer Institute notes that obesity is a risk factor. While diet has not been proven at this point to help reduce the risk of breast cancer at this point, it can help with obesity.

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    So talk to your doctor about having blood work to find out about your proneurotensin. And – equally important, make important lifestyle choices that can help you lower your risk for these health conditions.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Diabetes Association. (nd). Healthy eating.

    Medline Plus. (2012). Blood tests may spot serious health risks in women.

    Mayo Clinic. (2011). Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors.


    National Cancer Institute. (nd). Breast cancer prevention.


    National Women’s Health Resource Center. (2009). Lifestyle changes to prevent and manage high blood pressure.

Published On: October 11, 2012